Just how fast Sarasota and Manatee are growing is a matter of debate, ranging from about 2 percent a year to estimates that dip below zero, but no one is disputing that our growth is slowing.
How ironic then, that slower growth proponents are finally building muscle, first in the Sarasota City Commission race last spring when two slow-growth commissioners were elected, and then with the approval of Sarasota’s supermajority vote in the fall, requiring four out of five commissioners to approve comprehensive plan amendments that increase density. At press time, many businesspeople were quaking at the specter that slow growth advocates could collect enough signatures to put Hometown Democracy, the statewide citizens’ initiative that would give voters control over comprehensive land use plans, on the November ballot. Even if they don’t, the initiative makes it crystal-clear that people are angry and scared about growth.
That’s one reason we asked New York-based population expert Brad Edmondson, who happens to originally be from Nokomis, to write about the demographic trends that are affecting our economy. His piece, “Who We Are,” shows just how closely our prosperity has been tied to the incoming stream of newcomers. (Read Johannes Werner’s article, “Where Are the Foreign Home Buyers?”, also in this issue, for a look at another surprising trend in our region.) Even more important, our immigrants—mostly the older, white retirees from the Midwest and Northeast—have always brought lots of new money with them. In 2006, they brought about $350 million out of a total $15.5 billion in aggregate household income to our region. If these people stop coming, our economy will wither, Edmondson says. And that means any growth, whether slow or rapid, must not destroy the amenities and quality of life that make them decide to come here.
In light of all the economic changes we’re facing, Biz941 and Sarasota Magazine have partnered with USF’s Institute for Public Policy and Leadership to sponsor four forums on growth. The first session, on Feb. 12, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in USF Sarasota-Manatee’s Selby Auditorium, is called “What Will the Next Five Years Look Like?” Edmondson will be a panelist along with Jack McCabe, a nationally known Florida real estate consultant and several other experts. From the types of businesses that will struggle or prosper to the kind of people who will—or won’t—be moving here, we think our panel will shine a light on the foggy road ahead.
For more information, contact me at (941) 487-1102 or [email protected]